Family – The Main Pillar of Mankind

Mercy and Forgiveness: How to heal the Wounds

By Elisabeth Hellenbroich



Shortly after the Bishops’ Synod devoted to the family which had gathered in Rome 270 Church fathers from around the world (October 4th to October 25th), Pope Francis addressed a general audience in St Peter’s Square, November 4th, in which he explained what the essence of those three weeks of the Synod deliberations had been: the Church considers the family and marriage as the main pillar of human society. He spoke about the “beauty of the Gospel of the family” by pointing to the two Christian virtues of mercy and forgiveness, that constitute the key moral principles that should guide today’s family life.


“he family”, he said, “is a great training ground of gift and of mutual forgiveness, without which no love can last for long; without giving oneself and without forgiving one another, love does not remain, it does not last! (…) We cannot live without forgiving one another, or at least we cannot live well, especially in the family. Every day we wrong one another, we must take these mistakes into account, which are due to our fragility and our egoism.”


We ought to heal the wounds we inflict upon each other in every day family life, the Pope said and he told the audience that the simple secret to heal the wounds and to break off the accusations: “Not let the day end without apologizing to one another, without making peace between husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters. Between daughter- in- law and mother -in- law! If we learn to apologize immediately and to forgive one another, the wounds heal, the marriage is strengthened and the family becomes an ever more solid home, which resist the knocks of our little and great spiteful acts.”


In respect to the recent Synod devoted to the Family, the Pope emphasized that the Synod essentially made clear that the “capacity to forgive and to forgive one another is part of the vocation and mission of the family. The practice of forgiveness not only saves families from division, but renders them capable of helping society to be less evil and less cruel.”


The quality of discernment

There was a very lively and at times quite controversial debate during the Synod deliberations- according to some interviews that were given by bishops and experts who attended the Synod. “As one Synod observer put it, the Pope did not participate or intervene in any of the discussions; he just sat there listening very attentively to the speeches and interventions which were made during the Synod’s plenary sessions. The Synod concluded with a 94- point document that was voted on point by point by a two- third majority. Pope Francis, it was announced, will study the text by the Synod Fathers and publish in response to the deliberations his own exhortation in the near future.


There has been a lot of press hype and allegations, according to which the Synod opened the doors for the right to have same sex marriages and the right to declare the marriage of divorced as legal (according to canon law). Yet in order to shed some light on what was actually discussed, we should study the address which the Pope gave at the end of the Synod, as well as look at some interviews which were given after the Synod for example by Cardinal Bassetti, the leader of the Italian Bishops Conference and by the special secretary of the Synod Archbishop Bruno Forte.


Pope Francis made clear in his address to the Synod Fathers that under his pontificate there is not going to be any fundamental change regarding the doctrine of the church. What he does want however is wake up the Church and break open some of the encrusted structures; a revitalized church which realizes his vision of a more merciful world which can forgive.


In his speech the Pontiff underlined that the Synod was not settling all the issues having to do with the family, but that it looked at the family in light of the Gospel and in light of the two thousand years of history of the church, by inviting the assembled to discuss fearlessly about the problems which emerge in today’s families. In respect to the Synod and the final document, the Pope stressed that everyone is urged to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life! He qualified the discussions as quite lively and frank. Trying to interpret todays realities through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis and growing pessimism.

And he noted that the “hearts of those were opened who often would hide behind the church teachings or good intentions and judge sometimes with superiority and superficialities the difficult cases and wounded families.”


According to Pope Francis the Synod was much more than just discussing the issue of family but it reconfirmed that the church is the “church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking for forgiveness”. Hence the discussion tried to “open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to spread and defend the freedom of the children of God and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.”


The universal Church is one, as he put it, where cultures are in fact quite diverse and each general principle needs to be inculturated. Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates the true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing: indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.”


Man was not made for the laws and commandments


The Pope reminded the Synod Fathers that the Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnation or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy. What really counts is not so much those who respect the laws and commandments, but those who do not defend the doctrine by letters’ but by the generosity of God’s Love.


The 270 Synod Fathers voted with a two third majority about the final 94 point document.

During a press conference official Vatican press spokesman Father Lombardi underlined that the final relation reaffirmed the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, which is not a yoke, but rather a gift from God, a truth based in Christ and His relationship with the Church. According to Lombardi the document points out that truth and mercy converge in Christ, which leads to welcome to wounded families. Discernment -according to the final text- “must be applied in accordance with the teaching of the Church, with trust in God’s mercy that is denied to no-one.”


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